Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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WALDEN / AMERICAN JEWISH NOVEL
25
outside o f America, they can hard ly be considered as American
Jewish writers. Similarly, though Mailer, Salinger, and T rilling
are Jewish, because they deal only peripherally with Jews they will
not be considered American Jewish writers, though I would con­
tend tha t they write as they do because they are Jewish. Bellow,
Malamud, Roth, and the others, however, are American Jewish
writers because the ir novels and stories, whose literary and cul­
tural reference points are Jewish, reflect the ir essential concerns.
In spite o f the ir individual differences, they usually deal with Jews
in the American experience.
From World War I th rough World War II, American literature
was dom ina ted by concepts like alienation and the wasteland. In
spite o f the fact tha t es trangem en t produced some masterpieces,
its time passed. When the o lder generation moved on, there
seemed to be few replacements. At this point in time, in Bellow’s
opinion, the writer had to exercise his own intelligence, to think,
and not merely o f his own narrow interests and needs. For Bel­
low, who had no fight about being a Jew — “I simply must deal
with the facts o f my life, a basic set o f primitive facts,” he said in
1964 — the Jewish people’s experience was a universal metaphor.
Inasmuch as the modern writer specializes in what are called
grotesque facts, and cannot compete with the news itself, as both
Bellow and Roth pointed out, he must go beyond reality. He must
tu rn away from cu rren t events, bu t without losing focus. For what
seems lacking, concluded Bellow, was a firm sense o f a common
world, a coheren t community, a genuine pu rpose in life. Man had
to strive fo r a life o f significant pattern .
With the same goals in mind, Malamud quested fo r moral
salvation and self-realization. Whether he is writing about Morris
Bober and his assistant, or Fidelman, or a Levin who would like to
be a “Free-man” in a world tha t is not easy fo r Jews, the theme of
meaningful suffering was present. Bober, fo r example, knew
painfully tha t he had been a failure in the eyes o f the world. But,
as became clear in the end , he was a good man in the biblical sense
o f the word. As one o f the hasidic rabbis said, I would ra the r be
devout than clever, bu t ra th e r than both devou t and clever, I
should like to be good. Achieving the essential Jew, therefore, by
his own actions is what was sought. But tha t goal, shared by Philip
Roth, is at least distantly rela ted to what Bellow refers to as
consummation o f a h ea r t’s need.
T h a t the re are similarities in the works o f some American